Print advertising no longer works. No one reads local newspapers anymore. Blah, blah blah.
Over the past five years I have lost count of how many times I have read news stories online claiming that local newspapers are no longer relevant in today’s society.
WHAT A CROCK OF S**T!
I have worked in local newspapers for more than 20 years and while there have been dramatic changes in that time, reports of the demise of local newspapers are greatly exaggerated.
And I should know.
Today, I am a partner in a local newspaper which I set up with three former colleagues in April 2014.
Over the past four years, The Spalding and South Holland Voice has gone from strength to strength and is very much at the heart of the community it serves.
Each week we print 14,500 copies and distribute them to outlets across the district, where readers can pick up a copy for free.
Our 40 pages every week are crammed with the big stories and the not so big stories that affect the lives of the people who live on our patch – the fundraising events, the tragic deaths, the milestone celebrations, the school dress-up days, the sporting fixtures, the cultural events and the court and council decisions which make up the fabric of our everyday lives.
And therein lies the key to the future of local newspapers.
In a world where fake news is rife and social media is abuzz with rumour, conjecture and downright personal bias, there is nowhere else people can get such trusted information on a local level.
Figures from GetMedia for the first quarter of 2018 show that nationally 30.9million people read a local newspaper.
Not only that, but more than 60 per cent of them say they act on the ads they see in a local newspaper.
Figures from a different survey suggest that only 3.09 per cent of those who use social media say ads they see while browsing have any significant impact on their buying decisions. More than half say the ads had no influence at all.
Despite this, figures from statistics portal Statista showed that digital advertising saw a growth of almost 50 per cent in 2016 compared to 2015, while regional print advertising dropped by almost 15 per cent.
Perhaps this apparent chasm can be blamed on the spread of the doom and gloom stories about print advertising’s demise. After all, the winners in this equation are the big online players such as Google and Facebook who want nothing more than for businesses to plough their advertising budgets into their advertising platforms rather than spend it in print.
Local newspapers are a trusted way of staying connected
Whatever the truth, it would seem that, as well as local newspapers being a trusted way of staying “connected” with the local community, printed ads are still trusted more than digital ads too.
And I would say that is reflected in what we see on a local level.
Hundreds of businesses choose to advertise in the Spalding and South Holland Voice each week. Many of them return time and again because they have seen a good return on investment.
We have one advertiser who has had an advert on the front page of the newspaper since its first edition four years ago. That’s more than 200 editions – obviously it works for them.
It works because their adverts are reaching their target audience. Repeated exposure builds brand awareness and trust and leads to new customers for their business.
Businesses can see their advertising budget at work
They know the ads are reaching their target audience because these business owners live within the community and can see the newspaper at the heart of the community it serves.
And this is where many newspapers over the past 10 years have fallen down.
In the past decade more than 200 local newspapers have closed.
Many of these were owned by the country’s big media companies whose shareholders demanded profits.
In an age where people have come to expect their news for free, these big corporations pushed up cover prices and hollowed out newsrooms, making professional reporters, sub-editors and photographers redundant to cut costs.
They closed receptions and made advertisers phone a call centre in a foreign country to place an ad, whereas before they could drop into the local office and talk to an ad rep they had known for years.
In place of local newsrooms were centralised newsrooms and subbing hubs where fewer reporters worked on more titles in a patch they may never even have visited.
Less distinctive content = loss of trust
The end result was less distinctive local content and the loss of trust from readers and advertisers.
In many cases, these titles were no longer at the heart of their communities.
And so they withered and died.
But those newspapers who have adapted to the changes digital media has brought while still maintaining their place at the heart of their communities, the future is bright.
Local newspapers are certainly not dead. Far from it. They have just changed a lot in the past 20 years and, as with everything, it’s a case of survival of the fittest.
Serve your community well, provide readers and advertisers with a reliable and trusty service they can’t get elsewhere and they will reward you with their loyalty – and their advertising budget!